Lina Hermsdorf: State 0

By Ella Lewis-Williams

Flat Time House
Thu 28 September – Sun 5 November 2017

“She wanted it to be one constant figure of thought / no fragments, no jumps / consistent,” so says ‘Emmy’, the recorded voice, sometimes male, sometimes female, sometimes both, that speaks across Lina Hermsdorf’s exhibition State 0 at Flat Time House, the former home/studio of artist John Latham.

Lina Hermsdorf, Vantage Point, State 0, 2017. Installation view, Flat Time House. Photo: Jean-Philippe Woodland.
Lina Hermsdorf, Vantage Point, State 0, 2017. Installation view, Flat Time House. Photo: Jean-Philippe Woodland.
Lina Hermsdorf, Vantage Point, State 0, 2017. Installation view, Flat Time House. Photo: Jean-Philippe Woodland.

And yet, this is an exhibition that must want to defy its protagonist, for it is replete with oscillations and inversions. It flexes and fractures. To navigate through its components – a looped sound installation; large sheets of glass dividing the back gallery space and kitchen; a series of performances by writer Emmy Beber; a text by Dean Kissick stuck on the fridge; X-rays of Latham’s injured body in the front gallery – is to be shunted dizzily to and fro. Background sounds in the audio track quiver between the environmental and the personal, the wind’s breeze becomes a woman’s heavy breathing. To circumvent the glass wall that slices the back room one must exit and re-enter the building, only to see the other side of the same space. Where the glass creates two possible vitrines, during a performance it seems unclear quite who is the object of display – Beber (who slips suddenly between moments of inner reflection to the demonstrations of a gregarious host) or one’s self. Hermsdorf’s tracing of these membranes that separate (or are they seams that join?) the realms of the interior and exterior, the private and public, is the show’s greatest effort.

In the looped audio work the character ‘Emmy’ disperses her body across multiple spaces, objects, genders and registers, from intimate to institutional. NHS explanations of MRI scanning processes and the human body’s molecular composition follow descriptions of her childhood bedroom. As each script cycle ends she flees to another speaker to be replayed. A more subtle mutation occurs with each reiteration: details are reordered, biographical facts become interchangeable - but the images they produce continue. Emmy’s script confronts the larger question on what scale and within which systems the self is constructed, but also the countless loops of our own lives, the fictions and gestures so well rehearsed and integrated they’re no longer noticed. 

Lina Hermsdorf, Vantage Point, State 0, 2017. Installation view, Flat Time House. Photo: Jean-Philippe Woodland.

Hermsdorf’s and Latham’s ideas converse loudly. The title of the exhibition (which forms the counterpart to Hermsdorf’s Vantage Point at Künstlerhaus Bremen earlier this summer) is Latham’s term for the atemporal, which he would frequently employ glass as a symbol for in his sculptures. The larger of Hermsdorf’s glass installations is made up of three separate panes, held by tracks along the floor and ceiling. The breaks between these screens, though a logistical necessity (the room’s dimensions do not allow for the installation of a single sheet at that size), do something exciting to Latham’s concept of ‘Flat Time’. If glass is, in his cosmological theory, representative of nothingness, a material that merges all in its frame into one equivalent image, what happens at its edges?

Lina Hermsdorf, Vantage Point, State 0, 2017. Documentation of performance Flat Time House, performer: Emmy Beber. Photo: Jean-Philippe Woodland.
Lina Hermsdorf, Vantage Point, State 0, 2017. Documentation of performance Flat Time House, performer: Emmy Beber. Photo: Jean-Philippe Woodland.

During a performance, while ‘Emmy’s’ voice lists the many broken bones she has suffered, Beber’s animating body demonstrates a deft physicality that defies her words. It has an effect of the ‘uncanny valley’. Such opacities are suspicious in contrast to Latham’s X-rays of his injuries - products of an imaging technology that verify the unseen. Though its transparency promises a technological fantasy of total knowability, glass in fact conceals itself. It only takes a fine crack to crawl across our phone screen to show we have not been stroking our pictures all along but the smooth surface that shields them. Only then do we see we have been seeing through. Could these breaks between Hermsdorf’s screens, fissures in the vitrines, instead be similar moments for those membranes to rupture - places for images, and the selves they seal, to rush through?

Ella Lewis-Williams is a writer based in London.

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